Special Report: Brazil's World Cup Readiness Examined

(ATR) Football writer James Corbett travelled to Brazil to gauge the state of preparations for this summer's FIFA showpiece.

A man holds a Brazilian national flag outside the Arena Amazonia before its inauguration match between Nacional and Remo, in Manaus, Amazonas, on March 9, 2014. The Arena Amazonia is one of the stadiums for the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014. AFP PHOTO / RAPHAEL ALVES        (Photo credit should read RAPHAEL ALVES/AFP/Getty Images)
A man holds a Brazilian national flag outside the Arena Amazonia before its inauguration match between Nacional and Remo, in Manaus, Amazonas, on March 9, 2014. The Arena Amazonia is one of the stadiums for the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014. AFP PHOTO / RAPHAEL ALVES (Photo credit should read RAPHAEL ALVES/AFP/Getty Images)

Less than 50 days out from the World Cup opening ceremony, Brazil’s football stadia and training bases near completion, but significant questions remain about the country’s ability to host hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors, while renewed protests from disillusioned and angry Brazilians may undermine the event.

"We moved a long way since the Confeds Cup. We have most of the stadia delivered; the biggest stadia. The last knot that we have to untie is the complementary structure situation in Sao Paulo, but we’re confident that the state, the local authorities, and the club - who owns it - will provide a solution soon. That’s the last big knot for us," said Saint-Clair Milesi, director of communications for the Brazil 2014 LOC.

Certainly photographs of the Sao Paulo stadium look unflattering, with a huge gap at one of the ends of the stadium still gaping - although this does betray that these are only temporary seats. FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke admitted this week that the city was in a race against time to get the venue ready in time for the June 12 Brazil v Croatia opener.

The LOC are insistent that there will be no issues putting up the scores of temporary buildings that house media, corporate hospitality and so on at any of the venues.

In Belo Horizonte, for example, which is complete and was used for last year’s Confederation’s Cup, FIFA are not due to take charge of the venue until May 22.

When I met the LOC at their headquarters in Rio Centro, near where the Olympics will be staged in two years, they were very careful to delineate their duties from those of host cities and regions that will provide infrastructure for visitors.

It is easy to understand why.

Not since the 1980s has the World Cup been staged in such a basic environment. The nonsense of refusing to use a cluster system in a country the size of a continent will put an enormous strain on thecountry’s second-rate air infrastructure and comes at a huge environmental cost.

Even when empty Rio’s main airport is a mess, with undermanned and disorganised immigration queues and slow baggage handling. Santos-Dumont, which handles some of the city’s domestic flights, is infinitely better, but even then cities outside the south of the country are poorly served, with few direct flights to places like Manaus and Cuaiba.

In Belo Horizonte there were diggers at work in the departure hall. The scene was chaotic there, but one feels that at least in this city they will get things done.

In Belo Horizonte’s City Hall I met Camillo Fraga, municipal secretary for the World Cup of Belo Horizonte. A pleasant garden city and home to both the current South American champions, Atletico Minero, and Brazilian champions, Cruzeiro, it will host six World Cup games.

The state and city have placed great emphasis on using the World Cup to promote itself as a tourist and business destination. It has even hired VERO, Mike Lee’s PR agency, to help in its promotional work.

"The most important legacy will be the internationalisation of the city of Belo Horizonte,' says Camillo Frago.

"Part of it is for tourists. We have a lot of things to show compared to Rio. We don't have beaches but we have a very famous culture and food and big hospitality. It is important to show it can be a tourist destination. Another important part will come from services to companies. We have enough space and free land to start new things that you don't have in Sao Paulo or Rio."

Neither he nor his counterpart in the Minas Gerais province office, Tiago Lacerda, seemed fazed by the possibility that infrastructure failure could undermine their promotional work. Likewise, the mass demonstrations witnessed in Belo Horizonte and elsewhere last June.

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Brazil's LOC have asked us to clarify that the interview with Saint-Clair Milesi took place on April 7 and that a solution has since been reached on the complementary structures at Arena Corinthians'.

Part 2 of James Corbett's report, published on Friday, looks at the potential for protests during the month-long tournament and offers insights on some of the issues facing World Cup visitors.

Written by James Corbett